Game: Modern Backdrops
Series: d20 Modern
Review Dated: 2nd, November 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 20
Average Score: 6.67
When I say that RPGObjects are the company producing the best d20 Modern material there are a lot of people who will agree with me. It isn’t just products like Modern Backdrops, which presses all my happy buttons, that leads me to statements like that. RPGObjects has a history of quality d20 Modern supplements and of producing them first. Blood and Fists: Modern Martial Arts is a prime example. I can think of a few companies that are making strong moves to take RPGObjects’ modern crown, The Game Mechanics, for example, but RPGObjects has pushed the level higher still with Modern Backdrops.
Modern Backdrops really is what you might expect. It’s a PDF that details a series of modern backdrops. No, no, wake up! Hello there! You! Keep reading! This isn’t as boring as it seems. For a start, I think one of people’s main problems with the modern setting (as opposed to the dominant fantasy genre) is the backdrop. It’s awkward to roleplay in the present day; especially if you want a game with lots of fantasy elements and you can’t quite integrate it, or if you want a realistic game but can’t quite seem to turn that into an adventure. Modern Backdrops helps out here. There are three levels of plot hooks; the first is for those “low FX” genre adventures, the third is there with lots of fantasy elements (think X-Files) and the second snuggles between the two. This is the sort of attention to detail that is always likely to impress me.
We have five complete rural areas of various shapes and sizes in the supplement. There’s San Carillo, Rio Hevrir, Schaddo Creek, Delora Valley and Dunklin. Yeah, these are made up places but that’s my preference for modern games. It’s easier, I feel, to suspend disbelief in a made-up city than refer to a real one. If you don’t think a made-up city can ever match the character of your hometown then what about Gotham, Metropolis or even Buffy’s Sunnydale? There’s more in the supplement than just these locations though. Modern Backdrops has rules for the Psionic Student class and for Possession. Since this is a PDF product it’s not too expensive just to buy the supplement for the new mechanics – but I bet you’ll end up using the backdrops anyway if you do.
Each of the modern backdrops has several layers of interest. We begin with an introduction for each, a look at the overall and outside view of the place. There’s a note on what sort of character would be suitable for the location too. Well. Maybe. Actually it’s a note on which characters are the best match for the plot hooks the supplement provides for the town. I don’t see any problem in ignore the plot hooks and using the backdrop for an entirely different cast and crew. I like my rumours and information, as a player I like to piece things together and so as a GM I tend to assume that’s what players like to do and therefore what I want in pre-written aids.
The “What Every School Kid Know” section describes just that – facts about the location that every school kid knows. The rumours section offers up the widely known gossip, true or otherwise, about the backdrop. Excellent. There’s a section for Important People, those major or interesting NPCs, and one of miscellaneous information. There’s even a community calendar, a set of notes of those times why people get together for one thing or another. The community calendar really is helpful, it’s a great way to foreshadow important events, get plot moving and bring characters into a scene.
There’s a collection of information about each drop that contains rather more exclusive information too. The Timeline of Important Events is the sort thing and contains the sorts of things that a character with a real interest and knowledge about the backdrop is likely to know. There’s another section for Important People but these are the sorts of NPCs who you’ll only know are important, or you’ll only recognise if you’ve some information. Crime bosses, for example. There’s a feature on Places To Go, one on Organisations and even an Official Report of the backdrop. I really appreciate this sort of detail. I want to put in as much for my player with the Librarian character as for the one with the Street Brawler. This last set of information lets me run a really non-linear game without the risk of having to wing too. That said, in quite a few cases there are no organisations of note for the backdrop.
A third level of information opens up the real secrets of each backdrop. There are Places of Power in each location (if you want to use them) and these are noted down as well as marked on maps. There’s a select list of Things To See for each location too and they’re similar to the Places of Power in that they’re either small areas of specific things with a supernatural history. There’s always a supernatural element in every location, its there if GMs want to take that route for their adventures. The Supernatural Residents are listed properly in this GM section. Finally, all the Dark Secrets for each backdrop are noted down. There’s a strong synergy between the Dark Secrets and the Plot Hooks.
It’s certainly worth mentioning the wonderful cartography in Modern Backdrops. This supplement does extremely well with full colour maps. I’ve speculated that it’s probably value for money to buy Modern Backdrops just for the new mechanics it offers. I’m sure it’s worth buying Modern Backdrops just for the colour maps. One of the reasons Modern Backdrops is such a formidable download (thank goodness I’m on broadband now) is because it contains a folder with al these high quality maps as jpeg files. That adds nearly 2Meg to the download.
Modern Backdrops is thoroughly professional. It’s a niche product but I think that work well as PDFs. It stays on topic and that’s just what I want from a niche product. Well. Okay. There is that new class and those rules for possession but I feel we’ve reached the “added extra” level by the time we get to them so I’m happy. You really do get a good idea of what each location is like.
It’s hard to envision any case where someone downloads Modern Backdrops and isn’t pleased with their purchase. If you’re tempted by the concept of Modern Backdrops at all, tempted enough to splash the cash, then you’ll be impressed with this.